Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 - Expressing the Sense of Congress with Respect to the Parliamentary Elections Held in Belarus on October 15, 2000, and for Other Purposes

Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 - Expressing the Sense of Congress with Respect to the Parliamentary Elections Held in Belarus on October 15, 2000, and for Other Purposes

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Cambell
Washington, DC
United States
Senate
106th Congress
Second Session
Congressional Record, Vol. 146
No. 132
Thursday, October 19, 2000

Mr. DURBIN (for himself, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Helms) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations: S. Con. Res. 153

Whereas on October 15, 2000, Aleksandr Lukashenko and his authoritarian regime conducted an illegitimate and undemocratic parliamentary election in an effort to further strengthen the power and control his authoritarian regime exercises over the people of the Republic of Belarus;

Whereas during the time preceding this election the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko attempted to intimidate the democratic opposition by beating, harassing, arresting, and sentencing its members for supporting a boycott of the October 15 election even though Belarus does not contain a legal ban on efforts to boycott elections;

Whereas the democratic opposition in Belarus was denied fair and equal access to state-controlled television and radio and was instead slandered by the state-controlled media;

Whereas on September 13, 2000, Belarusian police seized 100,000 copies of a special edition of the Belarusian Free Trade Union newspaper, Rabochy, dedicated to the democratic opposition's efforts to promote a boycott of the October 15 election;

Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime denied the democratic opposition in Belarus seats on the Central Election Commission, thereby violating his own pledge to provide the democratic opposition a role in this Commission;

Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime denied the vast majority of independent candidates opposed to his regime the right to register as candidates in this election;

Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime dismissed recommendations presented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for making the election law in Belarus consistent with OSCE standards;

Whereas in Grodno, police loyal to Aleksandr Lukashenko summoned voters to participate in this illegitimate election for parliament;

Whereas the last genuinely free and fair parliamentary election in Belarus took place in 1995 and from it emerged the 13th Supreme Soviet whose democratically and constitutionally derived authorities and powers have been undercut by the authoritarian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko; and

Whereas on October 11, the Lukashenko regime froze the bank accounts and seized the equipment of the independent publishing company, Magic, where most of the independent newspapers in Minsk are published:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), Congress hereby-- (1) declares that-- (A) the period preceding the elections held in Belarus held on October 15, 2000, was plagued by continued human rights abuses and a climate of fear for which the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko is responsible; (B) these elections were conducted in the absence of a democratic electoral law; (C) the Lukashenko regime purposely denied the democratic opposition access to state-controlled media; and (D) these elections were for seats in a parliament that lacks real constitutional power and democratic legitimacy; (2) declares its support for the Belarus' democratic opposition, commends the efforts of the opposition to boycott these illegitimate parliamentary elections, and expresses the hopes of Congress that the citizens of Belarus will soon benefit from true freedom and democracy; (3) reaffirms its recognition of the 13th Supreme Soviet as the sole and democratically and constitutionally legitimate legislative body of Belarus ; and (4) notes that, as the legitimate parliament of Belarus , the 13th Supreme Soviet should continue to represent Belarus in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It is the sense of Congress that the President should call upon Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime to--(1) provide a full accounting of the disappearances of individuals in that country, including the disappearance of Viktor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky; and (2) release Vladimir Kudinov, Andrei Klimov, and all others imprisoned in Belarus for their political views.

The Secretary of the Senate shall transmit a copy of this resolution to the President.


 

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  • Flawed Elections in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, this Sunday, October 15th, Belarus will hold parliamentary elections. Based on the run-up to the elections, the possibility of free and fair elections simply does not exist. Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who illegally extended his own term in office, is once again attempting to dupe the international community into believing that there are viable electoral processes in today's Belarus. The reality is different. The Lukashenka regime has not met any of the four conditions that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe setback last spring, namely, a democratic election law; an end to human rights abuses; access by the opposition to the state media; and genuine powers granted to the parliament. As a result, on August 30, the OSCE and other institutions decided not to send a full-fledged international observation team to Belarus. This decision could have been revisited if the situation in Belarus had improved. However, since August 30, the Lukashenka regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds; detained, fined, or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections; burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party; and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper. My friend, opposition leader Anatoly Lebedka was physically assaulted during a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of opposition leader Viktor Gonchar and his associate Anatoly Krasovsky. I might add that another leader of the opposition, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, remains missing after having disappeared 17 months ago, and two leading opposition members, Andrei Klimov and Vladimir Koudinov, remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Mr. Speaker, governmental interference in the election process appears to be rampant. There are reports that regional and local government executive committees have been threatened to ensure that government supported candidates will be elected. The registration process also showed strong signs of arbitrariness, with the rejection of a large percentage of candidates, especially opposition candidates. According to today's Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty East-Central Europe Report, Belarusian authorities, in an attempt to counter the opposition's call for an election boycott, have begun urging early voting and even threatening reprisals if voters fail to go to the polls. Furthermore, in Brest, the government-controlled local press is publishing election materials devoted solely to one candidate. All of these and other incidents, Mr. Speaker, have contributed to an atmosphere highly obtrusive to free and fair elections. Given the pre-election atmosphere, the international community will be hard-pressed to recognize the new parliament, which succeeds the old, Lukashenka hand-picked parliament that was not recognized by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and much of the international community. Moreover, the current election environment does not in any way inspire confidence that the presidential elections scheduled for next year will be democratic. Mr. Lukashenka would do well to keep in mind that, with the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, he becomes increasingly isolated as Europe's sole remaining dictator.

  • Continuing Climate of Fear in Belarus

    Mr. President, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I take this opportunity to update my colleagues on the situation in Belarus, as I have done on previous occasions. The Belarusian parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 15, and unfortunately, they do not meet the basic commitments outlined by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concerning free and democratic elections. Moreover, many observers have concluded that the Belarusian government has not made real progress in fulfilling four criteria for international observation of the elections: respect for human rights and an end to the climate of fear; opposition access to the state media; a democratic electoral code; and the granting of real power to the parliament that will be chosen in these elections. Instead, the Helsinki Commission has observed that the Lukashenka regime launched a campaign of intensified harassment in recent days directed against members of the opposition.   We have received reports that just last week, Anatoly Lebedka, leader of the United Civic Party, whom many of my colleagues met when he visited the Senate last year, was roughed up by police after attending an observance marking the first anniversary of the disappearance of a leading member of the democratic opposition Viktor Gonchar and his associate, Anatoly Krasovsky. And just a few days ago, we were informed that Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Viachorka's request for air time on Belarusian television to explain why the opposition is boycotting the parliamentary elections was met with a hateful, disparaging diatribe on the main newscast `Panorama.' This is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition, the Helsinki Commission is receiving reports of detentions, fines and instances of beatings of opposition activists who are promoting a boycott of the elections by distributing leaflets or other literature or holding meetings with voters. In recent weeks, we have also been informed of the refusal to register many opposition candidates on dubious grounds; the seizure of over 100,000 copies of the independent trade union newspaper `Rabochy'; forceful disruptions of public meetings with representatives of the opposition; an apparent burglary of the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party; a ban of the First Festival of Independent Press in Vitebsk, and recent `reminder letters' by the State Committee on Press for independent newspapers to re-register.   Mr. President, Belarusian opposition parties supporting the boycott have received permission to stage ‘Freedom March III’ this Sunday, October 1. At a number of past demonstrations, police have detained, harassed and beaten participants. Those in Congress who are following developments in Belarus are hopeful that this demonstration will take place peacefully, that authorities do not limit the rights of Belarusian citizens to freedom of association and assembly, and that the Government of Belarus will refrain from acts of repression against the opposition and others who openly advocate for a boycott of these elections.   Mr. President, the Helsinki Commission continues to monitor closely the events surrounding these elections and we will keep the full Senate apprised of developments in the ongoing struggle for democracy in Belarus.

  • Serbia Democratization Act of 2000

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding me this time and for his work in helping to bring this legislation to the floor today. Mr. Speaker, as we wait to see if opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica will be allowed to secure the election, which by all accounts he seems to have secured and won, it is important for this Congress to support those seeking democratic change in Serbia as well as those undertaking democratic change in Montenegro. This bill does just that. Introduced by myself and several other cosponsors in February of 1999, and updated in light of events since that time, the bill before us today includes language to which the Senate has already agreed by unanimous consent. The State Department has been thoroughly consulted, and its requested changes as well have been incorporated into the text. Throughout there has been a bipartisan effort to craft this legislation. In short, the bill authorizes the provision of democratic assistance to those in Serbia who are struggling for change. It also calls for maintaining sanctions on Serbia until such time that democratic change is indeed underway, allowing at the same time the flexibility to respond quickly to positive developments if and when they occur. Reflective of another resolution, H. Con. Res. 118, which I introduced last year, the bill supports the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including Slobodan Milosevic, to justice. The reasons for this bill are clear, Mr. Speaker. In addition to news accounts and presentations in other committees and other venues, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, has held numerous hearings on the efforts of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic to stomp out democracy and to stay in power. The Commission has held three hearings specifically on this issue and one additional hearing specifically on the threat Milosevic presents to Montenegro. Of course, in the many, many hearings the commission has held on Bosnia and Kosovo over the years, witnesses testify to the role of Milosevic in instigating, if not orchestrating, conflict and war. Mr. Speaker, the regime of Milosevic has resorted to increasingly repressive measures, as we all know, to stay in power in light of the elections that were held yesterday in the Yugoslav Federation, of which Serbia and Montenegro are a part. Journalist Miroslav Filipovic received, for example, a 7-year sentence for reporting the truth about Yugoslav and Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. The very courageous Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Fund, faces similar charges for documenting these atrocities. Ivan Stambolic, an early mentor but now a leading and credible critic of Slobodon Milosevic, was literally abducted from the streets of Belgrade. Authorities have raided the headquarters of the Center For Free Elections and Democracy, a civic, domestic monitoring organization; and members of the student movement Otpor regularly face arrest, detention and physical harassment. Political opposition candidates have been similarly threatened, harassed, and physically attacked. As news reports regularly indicate, Milosevic may also be considering violent action to bring Montenegro, which has embarked on a democratic path and distanced itself from Belgrade, back under his control. Signs that he is instigating trouble there are certainly evident. It is too early for the results of the elections to be known fully. However, this bill allows us the flexibility to react to those results. Assistance for transition is authorized, allowing a quick reaction to positive developments. Sanctions can also be eased, if needed. On the other hand, few hold hope that Milosevic will simply relinquish power. A struggle for democracy may only now just be starting and not ending. The human rights violations I have highlighted, Mr. Speaker, are also mere examples of deeply rooted institutionalized repression. Universities and the media are restricted by Draconian laws from encouraging the free debate of ideas upon which societies thrive. National laws and the federal constitution have been drafted and redrafted to orchestrate the continued power of Slobodan Milosevic. The military has been purged, as we all know, of many high-ranking professionals unwilling to do Milosevic's dirty work, and the place is a virtual military force of its own designed to tackle internal enemies who are in fact trying to save Serbia from this tyrant. Paramilitary groups merge with criminal gangs in the pervasive corruption which now exists. Sophisticated and constant propaganda has been designed over the last decade to warp the minds of the people into believing this regime has defended the interests of Serbs in Serbia and throughout former Yugoslavia. As a result, even if a democratic change were to begin in Serbia, which we all hope and pray for, the assistance authorized in this bill is needed to overcome the legacy of Milosevic. His influence over the decade has been so strong that it will take considerable effort to bring Serbia back to where it should be. Bringing democratic change to Serbia and supporting the change already taking place in Montenegro is without question in the U.S. national interest. We may differ in our positions regarding the decision to use American forces in the Balkans either for peacekeeping or peacemaking. Nothing, however, could better create the conditions for regional stability which would allow our forces to come home with their mission accomplished than a Serbia on the road to democratic recovery. There is, however, an even stronger interest. Indeed, there is a fundamental right of the people of Serbia themselves to democratic governance. They deserve to have the same rights and freedoms, as well as the opportunity for a prosperous future, that is enjoyed by so many other Europeans and by our fellow Americans. The people of America, of Europe, the people of Serbia all have a strong mutual interest in ending Milosevic's reign of hatred and thuggery. This bill advances that cause.      

  • Serbian Democratization of 2000

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding me this time and for his work in helping to bring this legislation to the floor today. Mr. Speaker, as we wait to see if opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica will be allowed to secure the election, which by all accounts he seems to have secured and won, it is important for this Congress to support those seeking democratic change in Serbia as well as those undertaking democratic change in Montenegro. This bill does just that. Introduced by myself and several other cosponsors in February of 1999, and updated in light of events since that time, the bill before us today includes language to which the Senate has already agreed by unanimous consent. The State Department has been thoroughly consulted, and its requested changes as well have been incorporated into the text. Throughout there has been a bipartisan effort to craft this legislation. In short, the bill authorizes the provision of democratic assistance to those in Serbia who are struggling for change. It also calls for maintaining sanctions on Serbia until such time that democratic change is indeed underway, allowing at the same time the flexibility to respond quickly to positive developments if and when they occur. Reflective of another resolution, H. Con. Res. 118, which I introduced last year, the bill supports the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including Slobodan Milosevic, to justice. The reasons for this bill are clear, Mr. Speaker. In addition to news accounts and presentations in other committees and other venues, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, has held numerous hearings on the efforts of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic to stomp out democracy and to stay in power. The Commission has held three hearings specifically on this issue and one additional hearing specifically on the threat Milosevic presents to Montenegro. Of course, in the many, many hearings the commission has held on Bosnia and Kosovo over the years, witnesses testify to the role of Milosevic in instigating, if not orchestrating, conflict and war. Mr. Speaker, the regime of Milosevic has resorted to increasingly repressive measures, as we all know, to stay in power in light of the elections that were held yesterday in the Yugoslav Federation, of which Serbia and Montenegro are a part. Journalist Miroslav Filipovic received, for example, a 7-year sentence for reporting the truth about Yugoslav and Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. The very courageous Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Fund, faces similar charges for documenting these atrocities. Ivan Stambolic, an early mentor but now a leading and credible critic of Slobodon Milosevic, was literally abducted from the streets of Belgrade. Authorities have raided the headquarters of the Center For Free Elections and Democracy, a civic, domestic monitoring organization; and members of the student movement Otpor regularly face arrest, detention and physical harassment. Political opposition candidates have been similarly threatened, harassed, and physically attacked. As news reports regularly indicate, Milosevic may also be considering violent action to bring Montenegro, which has embarked on a democratic path and distanced itself from Belgrade, back under his control. Signs that he is instigating trouble there are certainly evident. It is too early for the results of the elections to be known fully. However, this bill allows us the flexibility to react to those results. Assistance for transition is authorized, allowing a quick reaction to positive developments. Sanctions can also be eased, if needed. On the other hand, few hold hope that Milosevic will simply relinquish power. A struggle for democracy may only now just be starting and not ending. The human rights violations I have highlighted, Mr. Speaker, are also mere examples of deeply rooted institutionalized repression. Universities and the media are restricted by Draconian laws from encouraging the free debate of ideas upon which societies thrive. National laws and the federal constitution have been drafted and redrafted to orchestrate the continued power of Slobodan Milosevic. The military has been purged, as we all know, of many high-ranking professionals unwilling to do Milosevic's dirty work, and the place is a virtual military force of its own designed to tackle internal enemies who are in fact trying to save Serbia from this tyrant. Paramilitary groups merge with criminal gangs in the pervasive corruption which now exists. Sophisticated and constant propaganda has been designed over the last decade to warp the minds of the people into believing this regime has defended the interests of Serbs in Serbia and throughout former Yugoslavia. As a result, even if a democratic change were to begin in Serbia, which we all hope and pray for, the assistance authorized in this bill is needed to overcome the legacy of Milosevic. His influence over the decade has been so strong that it will take considerable effort to bring Serbia back to where it should be. Bringing democratic change to Serbia and supporting the change already taking place in Montenegro is without question in the U.S. national interest. We may differ in our positions regarding the decision to use American forces in the Balkans either for peacekeeping or peacemaking. Nothing, however, could better create the conditions for regional stability which would allow our forces to come home with their mission accomplished than a Serbia on the road to democratic recovery. There is, however, an even stronger interest. Indeed, there is a fundamental right of the people of Serbia themselves to democratic governance. They deserve to have the same rights and freedoms, as well as the opportunity for a prosperous future that is enjoyed by so many other Europeans and by our fellow Americans. The people of America, of Europe, the people of Serbia all have a strong mutual interest in ending Milosevic's reign of hatred and thuggery. This bill advances that cause.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • Milosevic’s Crackdown in Serbia and Threat to Montenegro

    At this hearing, with Commissioners Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) in attendance, witnesses testified on the atrocities committed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Foremost on people’s minds was the conviction and sentence of years in prison of a Serbian journalist for committing “espionage” after he wrote about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. More broadly, the hearing examined Milosevic’s efforts to perpetuate his power by forcing changes to the Yugoslav constitution and cracking down on forces in Serbia.  Also in attendance were Branislav Carak of the Serbian Independent Trade Union; Stojan Cerovic, fellow at the U.S. Institute of peace; Dr. David Dasic, head of the Trade Mission of the Republic of Montenegro; and Bogdan Ivanisevic, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

  • Azerbaijan's Parliamentary Elections

    Mr. Speaker, today I introduce a resolution calling on the Government of Azerbaijan to hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November. After a series of elections marred by irregularities, the upcoming election will help define the country's political orientation and its international reputation. Is Azerbaijan developing towards Western-style electoral democracy or mired in the Soviet pattern of controlled voting results? The answer to that question is important for the United States, which has significant strategic and economic interests in Azerbaijan.   At age 77, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev is the most experienced politician in the former Soviet space. Since returning to power in 1993, he has created a semi-authoritarian political system that features highly centralized, hands-on presidential rule, with constant positive coverage in the state-run media. President Aliev controls all branches of government and the state's instruments of coercion. His implicit bargain with Azerbaijan's citizens offers stability in return for unquestioned predominance. While Azerbaijan's constitution enshrines separation of powers, neither the legislature, judiciary, press, nor opposition parties may challenge President Aliev's hold on power. Indeed, in an interview published in last Sunday's New York Times, he openly said, `I will always be president here.' Opposition parties function, publish newspapers and have some representation in parliament. But they have no access to state media, which portray them negatively, and their opportunities to influence the political process, let alone actual decision-making, are carefully restricted.   With respect to elections, Azerbaijan's record has been poor. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) monitored the 1995 and 1998 parliamentary and presidential elections, and concluded that they did not meet OSCE standards. Council of Europe observers harshly criticized the first round of the local elections in December 1999, though they noted some improvements in the second round. These flawed elections have exacerbated the deep distrust between the government and opposition parties.   On May 25, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on the upcoming election, in which Azerbaijani Government representatives and opposition leaders participated. At that time, the main bone of contention between them was the composition of the Central Election Commission. During the hearing, a government spokesman announced that Baku was prepared to let government and opposition members veto the other side's nominees for the Commission posts set aside for independents, a major step forward. In fact, that assurance subsequently turned out to be not entirely reliable when the hard bargaining began in Baku, with the mediation of the ODIHR. Nevertheless, the agreement eventually reached did give opposition parties an opportunity to block decisions taken by the pro-presidential majority and was acclaimed by ODIHR as a fair and necessary compromise.   Since then, unfortunately, the process has collapsed. Azerbaijan's parliament passed an election law on July 5 that did not include amendments recommended by the ODIHR to bring the legislation into accord with OSCE standards. The law excludes an opposition party registered in February 2000 from fielding a party list; other problematic aspects include territorial and local election commissions which are effectively under government control, the restriction of voters' rights to sign petitions nominating more than one candidate or party, and the right of domestic observers to monitor the election. President Aliev claims that he proposed modifications to the election law but parliament refused to accept them. This assertion, considering his hold on the legislature, where a loyal, pro-presidential party controls over 80 percent of the seats, is simply not plausible. In any case, if he did not approve of the law, he could have vetoed it. Instead, he signed it.   On July 7, the ODIHR issued a press release `deploring' shortcomings in the election law. Opposition parties refused to participate in the work of the Central Election Commission unless the law is changed. In response, parliament amended the Central Election Commission law, depriving the opposition of the ability to block decisions. On July 20, 12 political parties, among them the leading opposition parties, warned that if parliament refuses to amend the election law, they will boycott the November ballot. Most recently, the State Department issued a statement on July 24, regretting the recent actions of Azerbaijan's parliament and urging the government and parliament in Baku to work with ODIHR, the opposition and non-governmental organizations to amend the election law in accordance with OSCE standards. Mr. Speaker, this turn of events is extremely disappointing. The last thing Azerbaijan needs is another election boycott by opposition parties. The consequences would include a parliament of dubious legitimacy, deepened distrust and societal polarization, and a movement away from electoral politics to street politics, which could threaten the country's stability.   November's election offers a historic opportunity to consolidate Azerbaijani society. It is essential for the future development of Azerbaijan's democracy and for the legitimacy of its leadership that the election be free and fair and the results be accepted by society as a whole. This resolution calls on the Administration to remind President Aliev of the pledge he made in August 1997 to hold free and fair elections, and urges Azerbaijan's Government and parliament to accept ODIHR's recommendations on the election law, so that it will meet international standards. I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Pitts and Mr. Cardin in this effort, and we welcome their support.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • Elections, Democratization, and Human Rights in Azerbaijan

    The hearing will outline recent developments in Azerbaijani elections. Azerbaijan government officials announced Thursday that Azerbaijan’s government has accepted proposals to agree with the opposition about independent members of the Central Election Commission in advance of the November parliamentary election. The announcement was made during a hearing of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, accompanied by several experts who arrived from Baku for the hearing, said that negotiations between the sides, with the active mediation of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), would continue about the Central Election Commission and the election law. How these electoral developments effect Azerbaijan will be outlined.

  • Expressing Condemnation of Continuing Human Rights Violation of Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Gejdenson) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for their leadership in constructing this resolution condemning violations of human rights and the erosion of democracy in Belarus in calling upon the Lukashenka regime to restore the constitutional rights of the Belarusian people and on the Russian Federation to respect the sovereignty of Belarus. In March, Mr. Speaker, I chaired a second Helsinki Commission hearing on Belarus which addressed many of the issues that are very importantly highlighted in this resolution. The hearing featured key leaders of Belarus's opposition, including Semyon Sharetsky and two leading State Department officials as well as the person in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, who was attempting to forge dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the opposition. This hearing was a follow-up to our April 1999 hearing on Belarus. In the last year our commission has made repeated and consistent intercessions, including through the OSCE, to draw attention to the deplorable situation in Belarus and to encourage the establishment of a democracy there. As my friend and colleague from Connecticut just pointed out, there are the allegations, and they would seem to be real, that have been in some of the newspapers, including the London Sunday Telegraph about the Russians brokering an arms deal to rebuild the Iraqi air defenses using the Belarusians as the conduit. The Telegraph reported that Beltechexport, the State-owned Belarusian military hardware company, has agreed to upgrade Iraqi's air defense systems to reequip the Iraqi Air Force and to provide air defense training for Iraqi troops. The deal is estimated to be worth about $90 million. It was signed in the middle of April, or last February, I should say, during a visit to Baghdad by high-ranking Belarusians. It also points out, the article, that Belarusian officials have agreed to undertake a detailed overhaul of 17 Soviet-made Iraqi war planes which had been in Belarus since the late 1980s. Again, Mr. Speaker, this directly puts our pilots at risk who are trying to enforce the no-fly zone, and I think this resolution again gets this Congress focused on the egregious human rights situation and also the military implications of the Belarusian regime. Mr. Pallone: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this Resolution, of which I am proud to be an original co-sponsor. I would like to praise the sponsor, the Gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Gejdenson, for introducing this Resolution, and to thank both the Ranking Member and the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Mr. Gilman, for bringing the Resolution to the Floor of the House so quickly. Mr. Speaker, while there have been many success stories among the new independent states of the former Soviet Union and the other former Warsaw Pact nations, Belarus has not been one of them. Over nearly a decade of independence, the promise of democracy, freedom of expression and association, and a new flowering of a national identity have not come to pass for the Belarusian people. The fault for this sad state of affairs rests with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The President has illegally extended his term of office beyond the legally mandated expiration date. Throughout his tenure, President Lukashenka has monopolized the mass media, undermined the constitutional foundation for the separation of powers, used intimidation and strong-arm tactics against the political opposition, suppressed freedom of the press and expression, defamed the national culture, maligned the national language and eroded Belarus's rightful position as a sovereign nation. Apart from the daily deprivations and indignities that the Belarusian people must endure, perhaps the saddest outcome of Mr. Lukashenka's rule is that his efforts have created the impression, a false one, that Belarus really has no distinct national culture or character. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the formation of the Union State between Russia and Belarus only serves to further perpetuate this false impression. While the tragic reality is that Belarus has been dominated politically for centuries by Russia, the fact remains that Belarus has its own national symbols and a distinct language. It's no coincidence that authoritarian President Lukashenka has targeted such national symbols as the nation's flag and coat of arms. As part of this campaign, Lukashenka's regime has ordered that schools go back to using Soviet-Russian textbooks, while the Russian language has been made the official language of the Belarusian Parliament in Minsk. Lukashenka's strategy has been to create conditions to justify the claim that history, language and culture inevitably tie the two countries together. The Belarusian language endures to this day as a key to national survival, both for the people living in the Republic of Belarus and among the Belarusian diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere. There are centuries-old legal documents and religious texts written in the Belarusian language, as well as modern literary and historic works. Despite Lukashenka's repression, the cause of Belarusian nationalism still burns in the heart of the Belarusian people, with the Belarusian language the means of expressing it. Failure to acknowledge the harm done to Belarusian culture and national singularity by the Russian-Belarus merger can only give comfort to Lukashenka and the Russian-Soviet irredentists. Mr. Speaker, the negligence and mismanagement of Mr. Lukashenka's regime has also put at risk the nation's environment and the health of the people. Just last week, former Belarusian President Stanislau Shushkevich spoke at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Washington office on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of the Chernobol nuclear disaster in neighboring Ukraine. More than 70 percent of the radioactive fallout from the world's worst nuclear accident fell on Belarusian territory. While there is plenty of blame to go around for mishandling of this disaster, among Soviet officials, and post-Soviet officials in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, President Lukashenka exacerbates the problems by insisting that all aid to Chernobol victims pass through his hands. These funds often are diverted to other uses. Fortunately, some Western NGOs and religious organizations have bypassed Lukashenka to get aid to the people who really need it. Also last week, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine denounced efforts by the Belarusian KGB to intimidate journalists from that organization working in Belarus. Mr. Dine's statement came in response to the threats against Yahor Mayorchyk, a reporter for the news service funded by this Congress to provide objective information to people from the region. A KGB officer told Mr. Mayorchyk that the `same thing will happen to you as to Babitsky,' a reference to RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitsky who was arrested for his coverage of the war in Chechnya and faces trumped-up charges in Moscow. Mr. Speaker, the abuses of the Lukashenka regime have been a source of concern for at least the past four years. In 1996, I introduced a Resolution expressing concern over the Lukashenka regime's violations of human and civil rights in direct violation of the Helsinki accords and the constitution of Belarus, and expressing concern about the union between Russia and Belarus. That Resolution also recognized March 25 as the anniversary of the declaration of an independent Belarusian state. A year later, I worked with leaders of the International Relations Committee to include language in the State Department Authorization bill, which passed the House, calling for our President to press the Government of President Lukashenka on defending the sovereignty of Belarus and guaranteeing basic freedoms and human rights. For years now, the Belarusian-American community has been trying to inform the American people about the truth in Belarus that President Lukashenka's actions do not have widespread support and his regime has lost any sense of legitimacy it once may have had. I want to thank the Belarusian-American community in New Jersey and throughout the nation for continuing to speak the truth about events in the land of their ancestors. Obviously, President Lukashenka has not been moved by these expressions of concern by the United States and the international community. But we must not give up. We should go on record condemning the abuses that have taken place, and continue to take place in Belarus. We must urge our President and State Department to keep the pressure on President Lukashenka, and also Russian President Vladimir Putin. For these and many other reasons, I urge my colleagues to support passage of this Resolution.

  • Report on the Presidential Election in Georgia

    On April 9, 2000, Georgia held a presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission, turnout was almost 76 percent. Incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze won reelection with about 80 percent of the vote. Former Communist Party boss Jumber Patiashvili came in second, with 16.6 percent. The other candidates on the ballot were largely irrelevant. Though Shevardnadze’s victory was anticipated, it remained unclear until election eve whom he would defeat. Batumi Alliance leader Aslan Abashidze, boss of the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria, had announced last year plans to mount a presidential race, but many expected him to drop out, as he had no real chance of winning. By threatening a boycott, Abashidze won concessions from the CUG on the election law, but his overall strategy collapsed when his Batumi Alliance colleague, Jumber Patiashvili, announced plans to run against Shevardnadze no matter what. One day before the election, Abashidze withdrew, leaving Patiashvili as Shevardnadze’s only serious contender. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission began its assessment by stating that “considerable progress is necessary for Georgia to fully meet its commitments as a participating state of the OSCE.” Among the problems in the election, ODIHR noted, inter alia, the authorities’ support for the incumbent, the failure of state media to provide balanced reportage, and the dominant role of the CUG in election commissions at all levels. While voting was generally conducted “calmly,” the “counting and tabulation procedures lacked uniformity and, at times, transparency.” The ODIHR also observed ballot stuffing and protocol tampering. Shevardnadze’s prospects for resolving the conflict in Abkhazia are bleak and he has little reason to expect help from Russia. Since the beginning of Russia’s latest campaign against Chechnya, Moscow has accused Tbilisi of allowing or abetting the transit of Chechen fighters through Georgian territory. These allegations also aim to pressure Georgia in negotiations about the withdrawal of Russia’s four military bases. High-level Russian political and military figures have made it plain that Moscow will try to retain the bases and will reassert its interests in the region to counter gains by Western countries, especially the United States. Tbilisi will need help from the United States in resisting a newly aggressive Moscow. Eduard Shevardnadze has long enjoyed good relations with Washington, which gratefully remembers his contribution as Soviet Foreign Minister to ending the Cold War peacefully. The United States has provided substantial assistance to Georgia and backed Shevardnadze morally as well. Presumably the congratulations tendered at the beginning of the State Department’s April 10 statement reflected appreciation for his past services, rather than acceptance at face value of the election’s results. President Clinton noted the election’s shortcomings in a post-election letter to Shevardnadze, reiterated Washington’s longstanding exhortation to attack corruption, and pressed him to implement urgent economic changes.

  • The Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries

    The stated purpose of this hearing, presided over by Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) was to draw attention to the deteriorating status of free speech and press throughout the OSCE region, raise alarm about this deterioration, and call upon OSCE participating states to recommit themselves to these freedoms. Such an impetus was drawn from how members of the press were mistreated in foreign countries. For example, 34 journalists were killed in the OSCE region in the year of 1999.

  • Anti-Democratic Actions in Belarus

    Mr. President, I rise to speak today about the dramatically deteriorating situation in Belarus. As of Sunday, March 26, more than 100 opposition activists remained in custody after a rally on Saturday that turned from a peaceful event into a demonstration that saw police clubbing protesters with nightsticks, hitting journalists covering the event and sending armored cars into Central Minsk. More than 500 people were detained, most of whom were not formally charged until Monday. This is only one of the examples of how, in Belarus, the Lukashenka regime continues to try to suppress the will of the people. In November, Senator Campbell and I introduced a resolution condemning the Lukashenka regime and its actions towards the country. The sad reality is that Belarus is being left behind while the rest of Europe is building a foundation of democratic governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. Since 1996, President Lukashenka has been responsible for numerous unconstitutional steps. He unilaterally extended his term until 2001 after he promised to hold democratic elections in 1999. He replaced the 13th Supreme Soviet with a rubberstamp parliament and he rewrote the country's constitution. Belarus has turned into a country where those who choose to participate in civil society by speaking truth to power must do so at great risk to their freedom, and even their lives, under Lukashenka's rule. Two prominent opposition figures, General Yuri Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, as well as another associate, Anatoly Krasovsky, have disappeared. Many of the people arrested on March 25 as well as other peaceful protesters were members of the opposition. Belarus' economy is apparently imploding and neighboring countries, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, are concerned about regional instability. Our resolution condemns the arrest of opposition figures and the disappearance of others; calls for a dialogue between Lukashenka and the opposition; calls for the restoration of a democratically-elected government and democratic institutions; calls on the U.S. President to fund travel by Belarusian opposition figures and non-governmental organizations in Belarus; and supports information flows into Belarus. Belarus is not making progress. We must do what we can to sustain the remarkable progress of the other countries that have transformed themselves into fully democratic market democracies, and encourage the development of a democracy in Belarus. Mr. Campbell: Mr. President, on March 25, Belarusian authorities harshly suppressed a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital of Minsk, arresting and detaining hundreds of peaceful protestors, including nearly 30 domestic and foreign journalists. Riot police, deployed with dogs and armored personnel carriers, used excessive force against some peaceful demonstrators. Among those detained and beaten was democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedka, Deputy Chairman of the 13th Supreme Soviet. Many of my Senate colleagues met Mr. Lebedka last September when I introduced him right here on the Senate floor. Mr. Lebedka was just in Washington earlier this month to testify at a Helsinki Commission hearing about the deteriorating situation in Belarus. Based on information I obtained from the State Department, I am advised that Anatoly Lebedka was arrested by plainclothes police during the demonstration, kept in detention, and reportedly beaten over the course of two days. He spent most of Monday in a police van outside the courthouse awaiting trial, but was released at 5:00 p.m. His trial has been scheduled for April 4. Mr. President, the harsh overreaction by the authorities to this peaceful demonstration represents a clear violation of the freedom of association, assembly, and information guaranteed both by the Belarusian constitution and OSCE agreements. In addition, the Belarusian authorities detained a U.S. citizen who is an accredited diplomat and a member of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, and who was observing the demonstration in line with his official responsibilities. This action also violates international conventions. It appears that the green light for the most recent crackdown was given by Belarusian President Lukashenka, who praised the police for their actions. Reports indicate that earlier this month, he cautioned that the riot police will “beat the stuffing out” of any protestor who “gets out of line.” Unfortunately, the suppression by the Belarusian authorities of peaceful protest, along with the sentencing last week of a prominent member of the opposition, does nothing to encourage a constructive dialogue with the democratic opposition that can lead Belarus out of its continuing constitutional impasse and end its self-imposed international isolation. Mr. President, I call upon the Government of Belarus to thoroughly investigate reports of police brutality during the course of the demonstration and subsequent detentions and take measures to ensure that citizens are guaranteed their rights to engage in peaceful protests, keeping with that country's OSCE commitments. I was pleased to join Senator Durbin as an original cosponsor to Senate Concurrent Resolution 75 which we introduced last November. That resolution summarized many of the political problems facing the democratic opposition in Belarus expressing strong opposition to the continued egregious violations of human rights, the lack of progress toward the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in Belarus, and calls on President Lukashenka to engage in negotiations with the representatives of the opposition and to restore the constitutional rights of the Belarusian people. In light of the recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators last weekend, I urge my colleagues to support passage of the Durbin/Campbell resolution. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a news report from the Washington Post on this latest crackdown be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the Washington Post, Mar. 26, 2000] Belarus Police Crack Down on Protest Minsk, Belarus.: “Hundreds of police beat back thousands of protesters at an opposition rally, sending armored personnel carriers into central Minsk and detaining 400 people in one of the country's harshest crackdowns on dissent in recent years. The rally was held to commemorate the founding of the Belarusian Popular Republic on March 25, 1918, when German forces were ousted from Minsk in the waning days of World War I. The independent state was short-lived and within a year, much of Belarus was part of the Soviet Union. Belarus' hardline government had said it would allow the rally to be held on the outskirts of Minsk, but several thousand demonstrators went instead to a central square in the capital.”

  • Belarus at the Crossroads

    The hearing will examine Belarus’ track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Recent elections have severely damaged the democratic development of Belarus as Alyaksandr Lukashenka remains in power, well beyond the legal term limit. The hearing will look at the processes the United States and the OSCE set in place to enable Belarus towards a more democratic regime.

  • Change in Croatia

    Mr. Speaker, in October of last year, I expressed concerns in this Chamber on the condition of democracy in Croatia.   At that time, the leadership of Croatia was resisting the transition towards free elections, stalling the construction of democratic institutions, flaunting the rule of law, and squashing ethnic diversity. Those that held power were maintaining it in two significant ways. The first was through the manipulation of the political system to their advantage, including, in particular, efforts to control the media and the unwillingness to allow free and fair elections. Second, there was heavy reliance on nationalist passions for support. Zagreb's policies swayed the loyalties of Croats in neighboring Bosnia and made it difficult for the displaced Serb population to return to the country.   Since last October, things have changed drastically and for the better. In the Parliamentary election of January 3, the desire of the people for change was manifested as the party that had ruled since the fall of communism was defeated by an opposition coalition led by the new Prime Minister, Ivica Racan. Meanwhile, in a special presidential election on February 7 to succeed the late Franjo Tudjman, Stipe Mesic won on promises of reform, of a more democratic political system with diminished power for the presidency, of greater cooperation with The Hague in the prosecution of war criminals, of progress in the implementation of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia, and of the return of Croatia's displaced Serb population. These changes have been universally applauded, specifically by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during her visit to Croatia on February 2. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I join the Secretary of State in commending the new policies of Croatia's leaders, and I complement our able Ambassador to Croatia, William Montgomery, for his role in pressing for democratic change.   Mr. Speaker, it is good that Croatia's new leadership is talking about substantial reform. However, we must be sure that it is not just talk. We must be sure to encourage Croatia to move closer towards full freedom, true justice, and greater prosperity for all of her citizens, regardless of ethnicity. We must continue to press for the surrender to The Hague of those indicted for war crimes. As we do, we must be ready to support Croatia, even as we have been ready to criticize Croatia's shortcomings in the past. Recent violence in southeastern Europe underscores the need for true democracy in the region. In closing, I congratulate Croatia's new leadership and its promise of progress. Now that reform is on the horizon, I am hopeful that Croatia will soon be an integrated partner in European affairs.  

  • Report on Ukraine's Presidential Elections: October and November 1999

    On November 14, President Leonid Kuchma was re-elected for another 5-years term as President of Ukraine, beating Communist Party candidate Petro Symonenko, with 56.3 percent of the votes to Symonenko's 37.8 percent. More than 27 million people, nearly 75 percent of the electorate, turned out to vote. Nearly one million people, or 3.5% of the voters, selected the option of voting for neither candidate. Despite the economic decline and widespread corruption that were hallmarks of his first term, voters chose to re-elect Kuchma, principally out of fear of a return of communism, and certainly not due to any enthusiastic embrace of his economic policies. While there were violations of Ukraine's elections law and OSCE commitments on democratic elections, especially during the second round, these did not have a decisive affect on the outcome, given Kuchma's substantial margin of victory (over five millions votes). The elections were observed by some 500 international observers, with the largest contingent by far coming from the OSCE, and some 16.000 domestic observers. While the West welcomed the Ukrainian people's rejection of communism and any plans to reinvent the Soviet Union or Russian empire, the lack of economic reforms, as well as inappropriate governmental involvement in the election campaign, dampened Western exuberance over Kuchma's election victory. Following his victory, President Kuchma claimed a mandate and promised to work resolutely for economic reforms. This, however, needs to be weighed against his dismal economic record and the questionable resumes of some of his major campaign supporters. Western governments, including the United States, almost immediately reiterated their commitment to assisting Ukraine's transition to democracy and a market economy. At the same time, these governments are waiting to see if the reality will match the rhetoric of reform.                     

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that the House schedule did not permit consideration of my resolution, H. Con. Res. 204, which has been co-sponsored by Representative Hoyer, Representative Forbes and Representative McKinney. The resolution voices concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, in particular, substantial noncompliance with OSCE commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections. Among the countries of the former Soviet Union, only in Ukraine and Moldova have sitting presidents lost an election and peacefully left office. We will yet see what happens in Russia, where President Yeltsin has launched another war in Chechnya. It may be too much, given the historical differences between our respective societies, to hope the post-Soviet states could find among their political leaders a George Washington, who could have been king but chose not to be, and who chose to leave office after two terms. But it is not too much to hope that other post-Soviet leaders might emulate Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk or Moldova's former President Mircea Snegur, not to mention Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, who all allowed a peaceful transfer of power. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders give every indication of intending to remain in office for life. Their desire for unlimited and permanent power means that they cannot implement all OSCE commitments on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as doing so would create a level playing field for challengers and allow the media to shine the light on presidential misdeeds and high-level corruption. The result has been an entire region in the OSCE space where fundamental OSCE freedoms are ignored while leaders entrench themselves and their families in power and wealth. To give credit where it is due, the situation is least bad in Kyrgyzstan. President Akaev, a physicist, is the only Central Asian leader who was not previously the head of his republic's Communist Party. One can actually meet members of parliament who strongly criticize President Akaev and the legislature itself is not a rubber stamp body. Moreover, print media, though under serious pressure from the executive branch, exhibit diversity of views and opposition parties function. Still, in 1995, two contenders in the presidential election were disqualified before the vote. Parliamentary and presidential elections are approaching in 2000. Kyrgyzstan's OSCE partners will be watching carefully to see whether they are free and fair. Until the mid-1990s, Kazakstan seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. But President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments and single-mindedly sought to accumulate sole power. In the last few years, the regime has become ever more authoritarian. President Nazarbaev has concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. A constitutional amendment passed in October 1999 conveniently removed the age limit of 65 to be president. The OSCE judged last January's presidential elections, from which a leading opposition contender was barred as far short of OSCE standards. Last month's parliamentary election, according to the OSCE, was “severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities in the electoral process.” In response, President Nazarbaev has attacked the OSCE, comparing it to the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo for trying to “tell Kazakstan what to do.” Tajikistan has suffered the saddest fate of all the Central Asian countries; a civil war that killed scores of thousands. In 1997, the warring sides finally ceased hostilities and reached agreement about power-sharing, which permitted a bit of hopefulness about prospects for normal development and democratization. It seems, however, that the accord will not ensure stability. Tajikistan's Central Election Commission refused to register two opposition candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The sole alternative candidate registered has refused to accept the results of the election, which, according to official figures, current President Emomaly Rakhmonov won with 97 percent of the vote, in a 98 percent turnout. Those numbers, Mr. Speaker, say it all. The OSCE properly declined to send observers. Benighted Turkmenistan practically beggars description. This country, which has been blessed with large quantities of natural gas, has a political system that combines the worst traits of Soviet communism with a personality cult seen today in countries like Iraq or North Korea. No dissidence of any kind is permitted and the population enjoys no human rights. While his impoverished people barely manage to get by, President Niyazov builds garish presidential palaces and monuments to himself. The only registered political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov. In late October he said the people of his country would not be ready for the stresses and choices of a democratic society until 2010, adding that independent media are “disruptive.” On December 12, Turkmenistan is holding parliamentary “elections,” which the OSCE will not bother to observe. Finally, we come to Uzbekistan. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan on October 18. Despite the best efforts of Uzbekistan's Ambassador Safaev to convince us that democratization is proceeding apace in his country, the testimony of all the other witnesses confirmed the widely held view that after Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the most repressive country in Central Asia. No opposition political activity is allowed and media present only the government's point of view. Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Since 1997, a massive government campaign has been underway against independent Muslim believers. In February of this year, explosions rocked Tashkent, which the government described as an assassination attempt by Islamic radicals allied with an exiled opposition leader. Apart from elections, a key indicator of progress towards democratization is the state of media freedom. On October 25-27, an International Conference on Mass Media in Central Asia took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not surprisingly, Turkmenistan did not allow anyone to attend. The other participants adopted a declaration noting that democratization has slowed in almost all Central Asian states, while authoritarian regimes have grown stronger, limiting the scope for genuine media freedom as governments influence the media through economic means. I strongly agree with these sentiments. The concentration of media outlets in pro-regime hands, the ongoing assault on independent and opposition media and the circumscription of the media's legally-sanctioned subject matter pose a great danger to the development of democracy in Central Asia. Official statistics about how many media outlets have been privatized cover up an alarming tendency towards government monopolization of information sources. This effectively makes it impossible for citizens to receive unbiased information, which is vital if people are to hold their governments accountable. Mr. Speaker, it is clear that in Central Asia, the overall level of democratization and human rights observance is poor. Central Asian leaders make decisions in a region far from Western Europe, close to China, Iran and Afghanistan, and they often assert that “human rights are only for the West” or the building democracy “takes time.” But delaying steps towards democracy is very risky in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious region of Central Asia, where many people are highly educated and have expectations of faster change. If it does not come, tensions and conflicts could emerge that could endanger security for everyone. To lessen these risks, continuous pressure will be needed on these countries to move faster on democracy. Even as the United States pursues other interests, we should give top priority to democracy and respect for human rights, or we may live to regret not doing so.

  • Crackdown in Belarus

    Mr. President, just a few weeks ago, many of my Senate colleagues met a young, dynamic parliamentarian from Belarus, Mr. Anatoly Lebedko, right here on the Senate floor. He impressed us with his dedication and commitment as he advocates for democracy and the rule of law in his home country currently being rule by a repressive regime. You can imagine how shocked and concerned I was to receive a call from the State Department this week informing me Mr. Lebedko had been picked up by the authorities as part of the latest crackdown in Belarus. I am sure my colleagues who met Mr. Lebedko share my concern for his well-being and for the safety of all of those struggling for democracy and freedom of speech.   Eight years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Belarus finds itself increasingly isolated from the rest of Europe as a direct consequence of the authoritarian policies pursued by its present government which have stifled that country's fledgling democracy and market economy. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held a hearing a few months ago to assess democracy and human rights in Belarus. In July, a number of Commission members and I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Lebedko address the annual Parliamentary Assembly meeting of the Organization of Security and Corporation in Europe (OSCE ) in St. Petersburg, where he outlined developments in Belarus and the prospects for genuine political and economic reforms. Clearly, the cycle of political and economic stagnation in Belarus will only come to an end through genuine dialogue based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.   The Helsinki Commission has called on Belarus to adopt meaningful political and economic reforms in keeping with that country's obligations as a participating State of the OSCE. On September 3, the government and opposition in Belarus began consultations at the office of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. These talks, long urged by the international community and the Helsinki Commission could represent an important step in beginning the process of reversing the bleak human rights and democratization picture in Belarus.   Until recently I had been encouraged by what appeared to be the start of a dialog between the Belarusian Government and opposition. However, there have been a number of disturbing developments, including continued harassment of opposition members, a renewed crackdown on the independent media in recent weeks, and now the detainment of Mr. Lebedko.   We recently wrote to Secretary of State Albright voicing concern about the situation in Belarus and called on the State Department to intensify its work in this area. This most recent development underscores our concerns. I ask unanimous consent that copies of our letter to the Secretary of State, a letter we sent to the President of Belarus, along with recent news clips be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington, DC, October 15, 1999. Hon. Madeleine Korbel Albright, Secretary of State, Department of State, Washington, DC.   Dear Madam Secretary: We are writing to voice our growing concern over violations of the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Belarus under the authoritarian leadership of Aleksandr Lukashenka, who remains in power despite the expiration of his legal presidential mandate last July. The fledgling opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of Communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law. Many of us recently had an opportunity to meet with Anatoly Lebedko of the United Civic Party of Belarus, a young political leader who, despite personal risk, continues to openly criticize the Lukashenka regime. His personal safety is of particular concern as he returns to Belarus following an intense crackdown against the opposition. In recent weeks, Lukashenka has reportedly authorized a series of measures designed to further suppress Belarus' already beleaguered opposition. Border controls have apparently been tightened and officials in Minsk and other large cities have been instructed to ban public protests and demonstrations. The few remaining independent opposition newspapers, including Naviny and Kuryer, have likewise come under increased pressure from the authorities. Lukashenka's campaign of harassment and intimidation of the political opposition has intensified. Former Premier Mikhail Chigir, arrested in March on politically-motivated charges, remains imprisoned. A number of other former government officials and political opposition figures continue to be subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention on similar changes. In a particularly disturbing development, several prominent opposition leaders, including Viktor Gonchar, Tamara Vinnikova, and Yuri Zakharenka, have simply disappeared. Madam Secretary, we urge you to intensify pressure on the Lukashenka regime for the immediate release of all political detainees in Belarus and a full accounting of those who have disappeared. We further urge you to ensure that adequate resources are made available on an urgent basis to support those programs aimed at strengthening independent media, human rights, civil society, independent trade unions and the democratic opposition in Belarus. Sincerely, Christopher H. Smith, M.C., Chairman. Steny H. Hoyer, M.C., Ranking Member, House. William V. Roth, Jr., U.S.S. Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Alcee L. Hastings, M.C. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S., Co-Chairman. Trent Lott, U.S.S. Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S.S. Frank R. Wolf, M.C. Jesse Helms, U.S.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington, DC, October 19, 1999.   His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President, Republic of Belarus, Minsk, Belarus. Dear President Lukashenka: We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government's seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in “an unsanctioned march.” Our concerns include the following: The continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months. The disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova. Increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper. The denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association. The police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations. Criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya. The initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus' development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Sincerely, Christopher H. Smith, M.C., Chairman. Steny H. Hoyer, M.C., Ranking Member.   From the Washington Post, Sept. 30, 1999: Belarus Opposition Paper to Close. Minsk, Belarus. A leading opposition newspaper in Belarus said it was shutting down following a court order to pay an exorbitant fine, to the minister of security over an article he said injured his reputation. The Naviny newspaper, which has come under frequent pressure from Belarus's authoritarian government, said in its last issue that “both the suit and the trial were a cover-up for a carefully planned campaign by the authorities seeking to close down our newspaper.”   From the Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1999 Belarusan Officials Blame West for Riots. Minsk, Belarus. Belarusan authorities accused the West of being behind street clashes between some 5,000 opposition demonstrators and police in which at least 92 people were arrested. But Dmitri Bondarenko of the opposition Khartiya-97 movement said police started the fighting and another opposition member said authorities have long provoked violence by repression. The fighting broke out Sunday in Minsk following an authorized rally by about 20,000 people. The demonstrators were protesting the disappearance of several leading opposition figures and President Alexander Lukashenka's drive to reunite Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with Russia.

  • Central Asia: The “Black Hole” of Human Rights

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a resolution on the disturbing state of democratization and human rights in Central Asia. As is evident from many sources, including the State Department's annual reports on human rights, non-governmental organizations, both in the region and the West, and the work of the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, Central Asia has become the “black hole” of human rights in the OSCE space. True, not all Central Asia countries are equal offenders. Kyrgyzstan has not joined its neighbors in eliminating all opposition, tightly censoring the media and concentrating all power in the hands of the president, though there are tendencies in that direction, and upcoming elections in 2000 may bring out the worst in President Akaev. But elsewhere, the promise of the early 1990's, when the five Central Asian countries along with all former Soviet republics were admitted to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has not been realized. Throughout the region, super-presidents pay lip service to OSCE commitments and to their own constitutional provisions on separation of powers, while dominating the legislative and judicial branches, crushing or thwarting any opposition challenges to their factual monopoly of power, and along with their families and favored few, enjoying the benefits of their countries' wealth. Indeed, though some see the main problem of Central Asia through the prism of real or alleged Islamic fundamentalism, the Soviet legacy, or poverty, I am convinced that the essence of the problem is more simple and depressing: presidents determined to remain in office for life must necessarily develop repressive political systems. To justify their campaign to control society, Central Asian leaders constantly point to their own national traditions and argue that democracy must be built slowly. Some Western analysts, I am sorry to say, have bought this idea, in some cases, quite literally, by acting as highly paid consultants to oil companies and other business concerns. But, Mr. Speaker, building democracy is an act of political will above all. You have to want to do it. If you don't, all the excuses in the world and all the state institutions formed in Central Asia ostensibly to promote human rights will remain simply window dressing. Moreover, the much-vaunted stability offered by such systems is shaky. The refusal of leaders to allow turnover at the top or newcomers to enter the game means that outsiders have no stake in the political process and can imagine coming to power or merely sharing in the wealth only be extra-constitutional methods. For some of those facing the prospect of permanent exclusion, especially as living standards continue to fall, the temptation to resort to any means possible to change the rules of the game, may be overwhelming. Most people, however, will simply opt out of the political system in disillusionment and despair. Against this general context, without doubt, the most repressive countries are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan's President Niyazov, in particular, has created a virtual North Korea in post-Soviet space, complete with his own bizarre cult of personality. Turkmenistan is the only country in the former Soviet bloc that remains a one-party state. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, has five parties but all of them are government-created and controlled. Under President Islam Karimov, no opposition parties or movements have been allowed to function since 1992. In both countries, communist-era controls on the media remain in place. The state, like its Soviet predecessor, prevents society from influencing policy or expressing its views and keeps the population intimidated through omnipresent secret police forces. Neither country observes the most fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, or permits any electoral challenges to its all-powerful president. Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has played a more clever game. Pressed by the OSCE and Western capitals, he has formally permitted opposition parties to function, and they did take part in the October 10 parliamentary election. But once again, a major opposition figure was not able to participate, and OSCE/ODIHR monitors, citing many shortcomings, have criticized the election as flawed. In general, the ability of opposition and society to influence policymaking is marginal at best. At the same time, independent and opposition media have been bought, coopted or intimidated out of existence or into cooperation with the authorities, and those few that remain are under severe pressure. Tajikistan suffered a devastating civil war in the early 1990's. In 1997, war-weariness and a military stalemate led the disputants to a peace accord and a power-sharing agreement. But though the arrangement had promise, it now seems to be falling apart, as opposition contenders for the presidency have been excluded from the race and the major opposition organization has decided to suspend participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Speaker, along with large-scale ethnic conflicts like Kosovo or Bosnia, and unresolved low-level conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, I believe the systemic flouting of OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights in Central Asia is the single greatest problem facing the OSCE. For that reason, I am introducing this resolution expressing concern about the general trends in the region, to show Central Asian presidents that we are not taken in by their facade, and to encourage the disheartened people of Central Asia that the United States stands for democracy. The resolution calls on Central Asian countries to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on democracy and human rights , and encourages the Administration to raise with other OSCE states the implications for OSCE participation of countries that engage in gross and uncorrected violation of freely accepted commitments on human rights . Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, and Mr. Forbes in this effort and we welcome their support.

  • Report on Georgia's Parliamentary Elections: October 1999

    On October 31, 1999, Georgia held its third parliamentary election since gaining independence in 1991. President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ruling party, the Citizens Union of Georgia, scored a convincing victory. According to the Central Election Commission, in the first round, the CUG won 41.85 percent of the party list voting, or 85 seats, along with 35 single districts. The opposition Batumi Alliance, led by Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, came in second, with 25.65 percent of the vote and seven districts, gaining 51 seats. Industry Will Save Georgia was the only other party to break the sevenpercent threshold for parliamentary representation, managing 7.8 percent and 14 seats. In second-round voting on November 14, the CUG increased its lead, picking up ten more seats, and then won another two in a November 28 third round, for a total of 132. The Batumi Alliance’s final tally was 59. Overall, the CUG has an absolute majority in Georgia’s 235-seat legislature, improving on the position it held from 1995-1999. The outcome did not indicate how tense the race had been between the CUG and the leftist, proRussian Batumi Alliance. A win by the latter threatened to move Georgia into Russia’s orbit and away from market reforms. The election also offered a foretaste of next year’s presidential contest, when Abashidze runs against Shevardnazde. With such high stakes and relations so confrontational between the contending forces, charges of widespread fraud dogged the elections. Of the Central Election Commission’s 19 members, only 13 signed the document announcing the results. Nevertheless, OSCE’s observation mission called the first round of the election a “step towards” compliance with OSCE commitments, adding that most of the worst violations occurred in Ajaria. OSCE’s verdict after the November 14 second round was more critical, noting violence at some polling stations and vote rigging and intimidation at others. OSCE’s initial cautiously positive judgement, however, allowed Eduard Shevardnadze to claim that democratization is proceeding in Georgia and that the country’s admission to the Council of Europe was well deserved.

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